Sixteen Rules For Buying Old Cars


2. Don’t buy the best you can afford. Buy the best there is, or skip it. The best is cheaper in the long run.

3. Mechanical repairs are preferable to rust repairs. No repairs are better still.

4. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a potential purchase. The only one who thinks it’s a tragedy when you fail to close a deal (besides the seller) is you. Something else will come along sooner than you think.

5. Buy original. Location, location, location? Originality, originality, originality. When original paint, chrome, and interior are in place, when the serial numbers all match, you can’t go wrong. However . . .

6. Not everybody and not everything can be a virgin. There’s nothing wrong with people and machines that have experienced life’s rich pageant in all ways, short of crashing. But let someone else find out how expensive it is to restore your preferred model of car to a high standard. Profit from their mistakes, yet expect to drop some additional dough to smooth out the inevitable remaining rough edges. Someone else’s tragic, money-losing restoration is your lucky day.

7. Don’t be cheap. Travel to find the car of your dreams. Hire an appraiser familiar with the marque to assess its condition. Spend a little, save a lot. Drive it home, or pay to have it trucked; it’ll be worth it. The cost of purchasing from rust-free climes afar will be a fraction of your potential exposure if you buy wrong and rusty locally.

8. Don’t expect to make money on old cars; prepare to lose a lot and be pleasantly surprised when you lose only a little.

9. Cut your losses. If you realize you’re in over your head with a particular machine, stop the madness without delay. Sell right away; then, next time, buy smarter. There is no shame in admitting defeat when the war is unwinnable.

10. Don’t be cheap, part two: Never delay repairs. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. With each passing month, another inactivity-related problem may rear its costly and time-consuming head—dead battery becomes flat tire becomes leaky rear brake cylinder becomes full brake job becomes frozen clutch becomes leaking rear main seal and so on and on.

11. Take professional advice, before and after the purchase. Whenever there’s a job to be done, do it right, with original or high-quality replacement parts.

12. Don’t lie to yourself or others in the sale or purchase of automobiles. Instant karma is going to get you.

13. Drive your car. You bought it, you drive it. Spend more time polishing than driving, and you’ve got a problem.

14. Join a car club, or, better yet, cruise the Internet; you’ll find the parts and knowledge you want without having to get up close and personal with the pocket-protected wing nuts who are the keepers of such things.

15. Standing water, weather, and bird and tree droppings kill cars. Keep it indoors or under cover on a hard, dry surface.

16. Make sure safety equipment is working properly. Use and, if necessary, install seatbelts. You may save someone’s life.

Reprinted from AUTOMOBILE Magazine, April 2001

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